A particular human gene variant makes breast cancer cells more aggressive. Not only are these cells more resistant to chemotherapy, but they also leave the primary tumor and establish themselves in other parts of the body in the form of metastases. An international group of researchers led by Dr. Lukas Kenner of MedUni Vienna in Austria has now identified a gene, AF1q, as being substantially responsible for this aggressive breast cancer behavior and recognized this gene as a possible starting point for more accurate diagnosis and potential targeted therapeutic approaches. The human AF1q gene was originally discovered in a chromosomal abnormality and recognized as an important factor in the development of leukemia. Elevated AF1q levels were also found in particularly aggressive forms of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The exact function of AF1q in the body is not yet fully understood but the current study shows that AF1q is an important key protein in the TCF7/Wnt signaling pathway and controls the behavior of cancer cells. Increased AF1q expression promotes the development and growth of tumor cells and prevents natural cellular death. Patients suffering from breast cancer who have pronounced AF1q expression have a much poorer prognosis than those who do not. Furthermore, "AF1q-positive" cancer cells are more resistant to forms of chemotherapy. It was further demonstrated in model experiments that increased expression of AF1q in breast cancer cells encourages metastasis to the liver and also to the lung. When the research group compared samples of primary tumor with samples of metastases, they found that AF1q-positive cancer cells had left the primary tumor and established themselves in other areas of the body as metastases.
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